Monday, November 23, 2015

Time and History, Development and Regression

From time to time we get the traditionalist commenter who suggests that the world of the past was far superior to the world of the present. Like last Friday.

I don't know if I was ever susceptible to that idea... No, check me on that. Now that I think about it, back when I was a liberal, I mindlessly joined in with the pack, imagining, for example, that American Indians lived in a kind of innocent paradise instead of being violent and repressive Stone Age brutes. Their lifestyle has little to recommend to the space-age Raccoon.

It was my study of psychology, and by extension, psychohistory, that cured me of the tendency. You could say that collective development is analogous to individual development, in that -- obviously -- the further back you go, the more primitive things get.

And no, I am not devaluing or dehumanizing our venerable furbears, without whom we wouldn't be here. Rather, the opposite. You may recall that on any number of occasions I have said that I don't regard children as "defective," or partial, or somehow incomplete human beings.

Rather -- for example -- I look at my 10 year old and see him as a perfect 10. The purpose of being 10 is not to be 11, let alone 18, or 21, or 30. I never give him the impression that his life will really begin in the future, and that there is no intrinsic validity and dignity to his current life, just as it is. We never talk about college, as if it is a matter of great importance where or even whether he decides to go. If anything, we let him know that he will have to gird his soul if he decides to explore those endarkened precincts.

Indeed, I assume that in 10 years time, everyone will have seen through the malevolent silliness, the infantile fascism, of college, and the bubble will have burst. The University Snowflake movement is doing everything in its power to move up the timeline.

Well, take that same principle and apply it to history, prehistory, and even pre-prehistory, AKA mythology. People of the past are often rather childlike by our standards, but that doesn't invalidate their lives, any more than our lives are invalid in comparison to the enlightened ones who will be here 1,000 years hence.

In fact, one of the most important functions of religion is to make sure that our current being has full validity in light of future developments.

What I mean is that religion speaks of universal truths, i.e., truths that will always be true regardless of future discoveries and developments. It's just that we must take those developments and inflect them through the prism of timeless truth. Which is what we are always doing around here.

For example, just as our predecessors took Aristotelian or Newtonian physics and examined them in light of religious truth, we do the same thing vis-a-vis quantum physics, or chaos and complexity, or information theory. The truth doesn't change, but our way of conceptualizing and communicating it does.

Among other things, this assures us that our lives will always have the possibility of being "valid," validity presupposing access to a truth that never changes -- in which we can confidently place our faith.

Conversely, let's say you place your faith in science in the vulgar sense. This automatically condemns you to obsolescence, being that science is always changing. For example, what if you placed your faith in Newton in the 19th century? Oops! Einstein just obliterated your faith. It is no different if you place your faith in Darwin today.

Having said that, just as there is a proper way to be a 10 year old -- for example, you don't expect him to act like a five year old -- there is a proper way to be an 18 year old or 30 year old. You still have expectations, it's just that you don't project future ones onto the present. Which is why mature people don't condemn America's founders because some of them owned slaves.

At one time slavery was universal. Indeed, I would guess that there were more white slaves in the world in 1860 than black slaves. I myself am no doubt descended from serfs or worse, but I don't brag about it. I don't try to use it as an invitation to not grow the hell up and to become dependent upon the state. Jews are the most mistreated people in history, but you rarely see one on welfare.

Another critical point -- and one we've discussed in the past -- is that, precisely due to the conditions of modernity, we have so many more ways to be wicked. People of the past were just as vain and greedy and lustful and narcissistic, it's just that they lacked the means to act on their badness (or at least the damage was limited).

But thanks to Obama, we have Genghis Khan with nukes. Historically speaking, he has given to two-year olds what only 40 year-olds are mature enough to handle. Ironically, he has no respect for their culture, which is only running about 700 years behind ours.

Prior to evil modern capitalism there was the predatory state. "What was odd about northwestern Europe in the eighteenth century," writes McCloskey, was "that it escaped from 'predatory tendencies' common to every 'agrarian civilization' since the beginning."

So, to the extent that there are residual predatory tendencies in modern capitalism, it is because the tendencies are in man, not in the system per se. Indeed, the predatory tendencies are only worse with socialism, as we have seen in the Obama regime, which is one gargantuan macroparasite on the economy.

McCloskey reminds us that as a result of the long "European Civil War" of 1914-1989, "capitalism was nearly overwhelmed by nationalism and socialism." It was as if man had reached adolescence and decided to plunge back into childhood (which only happens all the time).

But a child's mind in a man's body is quite different from a man in a man's body. Regression to earlier stages of development is always possible, and indeed, this goes to the deep structure of the culture war between left and right. The left is very much like an immature child who will never get what he needs so long as he is getting what he thinks he wants.

Much to do today. To be continued...


julie said...

Among other things, this assures us that our lives will always have the possibility of being "valid," validity presupposing access to a truth that never changes -- in which we can confidently place our faith.

Yes, just so. And that is why, for instance, the Bible can't not be true: it is relevant to all of mankind, from the stone age shepherd to the internet entrepreneur. Neither expression of humanity is more valid - more authentically human - than the other.

John said...

Just to clarify-I don't things were better way back when. I was pointing out that Schuon does. I mean, he really really does.

Gagdad Bob said...

Seems to have been under the influence of that whole romantic Germanic thing. Understandable if you grew up in a charming medieval village in the 20th century.

Gagdad Bob said...


John said...

"Jews are the most mistreated people in history, but you rarely see one on welfare."
True in the U.S, but not in Israel. 1/3 there are on state subsidy.

John said...

possibly it was his disposition, but the vast majority of those raised in lovely medieval villages didn't share his view.
I think it had more to do, as with Guenon, believing in the Indian theory of Yugas without question.

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "...under the influence of that whole romantic Germanic thing..."

Spoiler alert: They end with a Scream.

neal said...

Native Americans. Well, that is what happens when some stuff if from the earth, and some stuff from the sky.
Never monothilic. Old stuff that sneaks into books, and stuff. I think maybe the whole idea of some combination being anything other than a tall scary magician bearing gifts would only attract certain ones that are not really from around here.

Of course, only the ones that know they are lost get to have more chances.

There is no history or colour considered. Just where stuff fits, even if that is more up or down than those that pretend to enjoy the surface.

mushroom said...

Another critical point -- and one we've discussed in the past -- is that, precisely due to the conditions of modernity, we have so many more ways to be wicked.

Very true. I have been re-reading That Hideous Strength to go to sleep. I am astounded that Lewis was so prescient, but he was giving the wicked of his day better technology. Good science fiction works like that.

julie said...

Mushroom, funny, I have never quite made it to that one. I read Out of the Silent Planet a couple of times with delight, then would find myself slowing down about halfway through Perelandra, and by the time I came to the final book it had usually gone awol and I was never quite determined enough to look for it and finish the series.

Perhaps with a different perspective, it might be worth hunting down again.

mushroom said...

I was the same about Perelandra, but it really seemed like a different book last time. However, I think you could skip it - I did the first time I read THS - without losing too much. The way opinion is manipulated, the idea of a state/science conglomerate, the errors of sociology and psychology, almost make me smile. You can see the modern politicians and academics right in the middle of it.

Gagdad Bob said...

No post today. Mrs. G is undergoing back surgery. Whereas she welcomes prayers, I am more in the "let's not get carried away" camp. No need to alarm God, and besides, it's just a routine procedure. She responds that God wants us to pray, but I like to keep my bullets dry for the big stuff, like an IRS audit or Clinton victory.

Magister said...

Sometimes I wonder whether, at root, I'm a misanthrope. Or at least a socioskeptic. I had a friend who died two years ago in her garden, looking up at the sky, confused, and wondering oh my God, you mean *now.*

Her tea was still sitting on the countertop inside the door. In her eulogy, our parish priest said that her one constant regret, which she only expressed privately, was that she never experienced a true Christian community. How she longed for it, but it was never realized. This was too modest of her, since she herself created, with bountiful generosity, a heart-felt community of self-effacing scholars, most of them young, vulnerable, anxious, and craving her kindness and erudition. Sometimes I encounter people and places where the Christian community seems to exist, but such encounters only last a short time.

I'm coming to wonder whether the problem is simply transience, busy-ness. I find myself encountering Christ-like communities and then having, for work, to move on and away. It's not German Romanticism, though my heart really seems to respond at least to Romano Guardini's fondness for it. It's not Romanticism at all, since I seem to have moved past disappointment.

I used to think on my morning walks, in the darkness, under the indifferent geometry of Orion, that I would feel God "out there," among the stars. I didn't, I haven't, and I never will. Evidence of God abounds, even in ordinary asphalt. The spirit of Christ, however, is only to be found in human consciousness, the intersubjective. Do we really need for this to be realized in human institutions? Does it suffice for it to be a wild thing, like the grass?

Sorry for the cri de coeur. I would never express these things verbally.

Magister said...

Prayers for Mrs. G, Bob.

Van Harvey said...

Prayers for Mrs. G.
(But I'll be sure to tell God not to overreact)

julie said...

Prayers don't have to be alarming; I have it on good authority that God actually likes to hear from us pretty regularly, even for routine procedures and matters of seemingly no great import. So with that in mind, I'll be praying for Mrs. G, and also for you and FL, because when Mama is unwell, nobody is really happy. I hope that everything is as routine and boring as back surgery can possibly be, and also that her pain eases and her back heals quickly.

julie said...

Magister, I know the feeling. My whole life has been nomadic; the longest I had ever lived anywhere was Arizona, and it was difficult after all those years and having put down some roots to go haring off to the farthest corner of the country. Speaking of prayers and of Christian communities; I think I never needed a community more in my life than I did after we moved. Of course, knowing that I always have a community here online has helped in more ways than I could ever say, but when you have kids, you need people close by. God has always provided, prayers are constantly answered, and as always, in hindsight everything seems like a conspiracy. Even the shitty stuff. Maybe especially the shitty stuff, since that's how vertilizer is often made.

Life of the hermit, in a nutshell.

When it seems like the whole world is sinking deeper into madness, it is comforting to know that whatever happens, I am right where I belong. The rest is out of my hands.

God is in the institutions, for I have seen Him in action there. He is also in the wild things and the unexpected, where friends find each other in unlikely places and a chance meeting changes the trajectories of lives. Big as the whole universe, and closer than your own skin. In a way, the difference between wild faith and institutional is much like the difference between childhood and adulthood: I would say they are both sufficient - both valid expressions of faith - at different times in our lives.

John Lien said...

Prayers for the Missus, Bob.

Magister and Julie, thoughtful posts, as always. Magister, yeah, this nomadic, modern life kills community. I long for it but doubt I'll experience it except, maybe a little, online. Closest I came to it was dorm life way back when.

I do like ("like" isn't a strong enough word) to look at pictures of the English and European countryside. Farms, hills, villages, neo-peasants in their peasant-y garb. I long for that idealized life. Like the hobbits in Hobbiton.

DouggieFranklin said...

"You could say that collective development is analogous to individual development, in that -- obviously -- the further back you go, the more primitive things get."

This begs the question what collective development is like the further forward you go. Is there a collective analogue to the sage or saint? Or does the analogy break down?

Magister said...

Feeling you raccoons. John, I do exactly the same thing with the English (and other) landscapes. Escapist, or Inscapist? I think it's the latter.

Julie, you're right of course about institutions. It's ironic that I even wonder about them out loud, since my wife and I just joined a new small group initiative at our parish and met other couples for the first time the other night. It feels forced of course, but they're all nice enough.

Still, I can't shake the sense that this too shall pass. This year has been rough for my wife: she lost three colleagues, one to a sudden fatal accident, and two fortysomethings (!) to cancer. We must be in batten-down mode or something.

Faith is a lot like walking on an invisible bridge. It feels nice when it's not challenged, but when you look down you suddenly see the abyss. Understandable to feel at that point that you only have each other, -- and even then, not for forever.

Ergo, how *good* Thanksgiving is for us!

Magister said...


"Is there a collective analogue to the sage or saint? Or does the analogy break down?"

it depends

otherwise, I'd say "monasteries"

julie said...

Re. the invisible bridge, yes. This year has truly felt like just such a walk, and this very week just such a blessing. How fragile the future seems these days!

Leslie Godwin said...

Thank you for your prayers, and all went really well. I talk to God all the time, so He would more surprised not to hear from me. I have heard that God wants us to pray petitionary prayers to remember to turn to Him when we are in need. But I can tell you from many experiences that I feel more peaceful and in tune with God when people pray for me or with me.

Bob and Tristan have been wonderful. So grateful. And for your prayers and kind comments.
Thank you, Mrs. G